I’ve been otherwise detained much of this week so I’ve been slacking with the posts. So I’ll get back on board with some discussion of a post Simon Burney wrote over on his Cross Advice blog. He writes about a friend of his racing his first season of cross over here in Portland, OR. His friend is pretty fit but not able to hang with the leaders of the pack and wonders why. Simon suggests that he’s not getting on the pedals hard enough after the transitions (planks, runs, corners, general slowing, etc.).
This year I’ve found a few guys at work who cross and we’ve headed out to a park right next to our buildings at lunch for some cross practice. Mostly we’ve been doing laps around a short course that takes perhaps a minute and forty-five seconds to negotiate. It’s got loads of turns and three dismounts. Two of the dismounts are contrived just to shoulder the bike and then there are a set of barriers. That translates into lots of places that require effort to get back up to speed.
Kevin, one of the regulars for the weekly session, is one of the faster A racers. Usually the drill is that Kevin starts out at a “reasonable” pace then starts dialing it up until I can’t hang. I’ll then cut the course to get ahead of him so he has to pass me and I have added incentive to stay in front, then chase hard when he passes me. Today we did a fun alternative where three of us did staggered starts — slowest off first. One of those heats produced a very exciting series of passes when we all came together at the same time.
Since there are so many transitions on this course, there’s not much room to wind it up. A determined rider can hold off pursuers by digging hard out of the transitions and getting to the next one even a whisker earlier than the chasers. This head to head riding on a twisty course has really raised my appreciation for the significant benefit of getting up to speed as fast as possible after a transition.
Fitness plays a part in a racer’s ability to hammer out of the transitions but there is a big mental aspect too. Suppose you are following someone and they get a little gap out of a corner. What should you do? The obvious answer is to shut down the gap ASAP. But that takes a brief hard effort that can be mentally taxing in the middle of a race. When you’re already hurting, taking it up a notch seems like more than you can handle. The reality is that a brief hard effort can pay dividends over the next section because it’s lots easier to stick to a wheel than try to pace 20 feet back — way easier mentally and a tad easier physically.
Getting back to those hot laps I was talking about … Kevin is way faster than I am. He’s going to be putting a minute into me every lap in a race. However, when we’re out in the park, I can hang for a bit if I will myself to make those short hard efforts to get back to his wheel since he’ll have to slow to set up the next transition in a moment. And sometimes I can keep him at bay for a turn or so if I dig deep coming out of the transitions.
If you have the opportunity, get out once a week with a friend or five and do some sets of hot laps. Set up a short course with lots of transitions. Focus on sprinting out of the corners. Don’t ride outside your technical abilities and wash out all over the place. Stay solid on the corners and relax through the dismounts. Focus all your energy on jumping hard every time you get past the slow bit. If you find yourself losing that focus, take a break and try it again.
I guarantee it’s going to make you faster.